New reports highlight downturn in BPS postsecondary enrollment during pandemic, positive impact of Success Boston coaching

Students with Success Boston coaching support were 21 percent more likely to graduate in four years than non-coached peers

March 23, 2023

Boston – A pair of new reports released Thursday at the Boston Foundation highlights the persistent challenges facing efforts to increase the percentage of Boston Public Schools graduates enrolling in and completing postsecondary education – and the power of Success Boston coaching supports to shift the dynamic.

Success Boston logo

The Success Boston report by Abt Associates, entitled Coaching for Completion: Final Report for Success Boston Coaching, compares the postsecondary completion rates of Boston Public Schools graduates at dozens of Massachusetts colleges and universities. It finds that students from the BPS classes of 2015-2017 who received Success Boston coaching were as much as 21% more likely than their peers to complete postsecondary education in four years. The positive impact was seen among the first few BPS classes to receive coaching under a federally funded expansion of the Success Boston program to serve more students.

The Success Boston transition coaching model matches recent graduates of BPS with a coach who meets with them regularly during their first two years of college and supports them as they navigate academic, financial, and social barriers in college. By providing students with supports that address their challenges, transition coaching aims to help students succeed in and ultimately complete college.

A second report, from the research team at the Boston Private Industry Council, is entitled College Enrollment and Completion: Trends for Boston Public School Graduates. It updates data that has been annually tracked since the launch of the Success Boston program in 2008 on the percentage of all Boston Public Schools graduates who enroll in and complete a postsecondary program, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, and certificates. Success Boston’s ambitious goal has been to raise Boston graduates’ postsecondary completion rate to 70 percent, effectively doubling the rate of the BPS Class of 2000.

The report finds that the six-year completion rate for BPS graduates in the Class of 2015 who enrolled in the first year after graduation was 52.2%, roughly comparable to the past several years. The data also show that the disruptions of the pandemic years accelerated a downward trend in the percentage of BPS graduates enrolling in college in the first year after graduation – the enrollment rate of 52.6% for the Class of 2021 is down sharply from 69.5% just four years earlier.

BPS College enrollment trend

“The data in both of these reports provide a powerful illustration of the increased challenges that graduates have faced getting into and through postsecondary pathways through the disruption of COVID and the economic and social turmoil it triggered,” said M. Lee Pelton, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “But the Abt report on Success Boston demonstrates the opportunity for systemic supports to rewrite the narrative and accelerate college success for Boston graduates.”

The Boston PIC report, College Enrollment and Completion: Trends for Boston Public School Graduates, also finds that the pandemic exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in college enrollment. For example, while more than 70% of White and Asian BPS graduates in the Class of 2021 enrolled in higher education shortly after graduation, fewer than half of Black and Latino graduates did. In terms of college completion, over 70% of White and Asian college enrollees from the Class of 2015 completed within six years, while only about 42% of Black and Latino enrollees did, similar to findings for previous classes.

BPS College Completion Rate 2000-2015

“While college enrollment rates fell for all student groups, the declines were steepest for Black and Latino graduates,” said Joseph McLaughlin of the Boston Private Industry Council, the author of the PIC report. “Finding ways to close racial gaps and provide supports that raise the completion rates for graduates from BPS non-exam schools will be critical for the City and Success Boston to meet the 70% goal for college completion over time.”

The Abt report on Success Boston provides evidence that a system of coaching and other systemic efforts could play a role in reversing both trends. Abt tracked students from the BPS Classes of 2013 through 2017 and compared the completion rates of students who took part in Success Boston’s coaching model with those of BPS peers from similar backgrounds and circumstances. The new report, the final in the series, finds that students across all five study cohorts who received Success Boston coaching were 18 percent more likely to graduate in four years, and 12 percent more likely to graduate in five years than their peers. Moreover, looking only at cohorts after the program expansion, coached students in the BPS Classes of 2015-2017 graduated in four years at rates that are higher than those of noncoached students by 5.6 percentage points (21 percent) and graduated in five years at rates that are higher by 6.0 percentage points (15 percent).

Researchers found that none of these results differed significantly by student characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, high school grade point average, or level of college the student initially enrolled in (two- versus four-year).

Chart of imporvements from SB coaching 2015-2017

“Coached students were more likely than their noncoached peers to graduate within four and five years of entering college,” said Kelly Lack of Abt Associates, co-author of the report. “One of the distinguishing features of Success Boston—the network of partnerships and history of collaboration it has helped establish —positions the initiative to help students address challenges they might face in college. Continued coordinated efforts across partners and stakeholders could be the key to expanding the previous decade of success and reaching the initiative’s citywide postsecondary completion goal.”

“Together, these two reports capture important elements of the complex challenges and possible means to provide meaningful supports to BPS students and graduates as they consider and enroll in postsecondary programs,’ said Antoniya Marinova, Senior Director of Education to Career at the Boston Foundation. “Coaching can and should be an impactful component of our work moving forward, but the data clearly illustrate that it must be just one part of a wider system to make higher education more accessible, affordable and navigable for students whose lives will be forever changed by it.”